Roger Apery, a French mathematician most remembered for proving that $\zeta(3)\in\mathbb{R}\setminus\mathbb{Q}$ (irrational) in $1979$. In this video posted by Numberphile: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ur-iLy4z3QE the person in the video briefly stated that during a seminar for which Apery unexpectedly proved the irrationality of $\zeta(3)$, mathematicians who attended that seminar asked him about how he came up with his binomial expansion of $\zeta(3)$, he replied:

"Oh they grow in my garden"

I do acknowledge the sense of humor that Apery had but what did he really meant/implied by his reply?


Who knows, and who knows if it even happened. This anecdote is repeated almost verbatim after Gibbs's “Crackpots” Who Were Right II published in Prespacetime Journal, not exactly a standard of historical scholarship. Other sources omit the colorful phrase, see e.g. MacTutor on Apery. Gibbs gives no explanations:

"In 1978 he presented a lecture on his proof at the Journées Arithmétiques de Marseille which was greeted with doubt and disbelief. Each step he wrote on the blackboard appeared to be a remarkable identity that his audience considered unlikely to be true. When someone asked him “where do these identities come from?” he replied “They grow in my garden.” obviuosly [sic!] this did not boost anyone’s confidence. Nevertheless, a few mathematicians recognised that there was something significant in the proposed proof. They checked the identities numerically and found that they did indeed seem to hold. It was not long before the full validity of Apéry’s work was confirmed and the skeptics were forced to eat their words."

Gardening metaphors are not uncommon among mathematicians, see e.g. The Secrets of Ramanujan’s Garden. Plato himself uses it in Theaetetus to describe growth of knowledge, albeit not directly applied to mathematics. One could speculate that Apery referred to some kind of platonic "garden" of mathematical curiae he was keeping, but that would just be adding to a likely fable.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.